What's love got to do with it?
A lot, actually, Tina, thanks for asking. But let me explain myself a little.
Last week I attended an accreditation course called The Circle of Security, a parenting program that helps build secure relationships and attachment between parents and their children.
As I got home, I was excitedly sharing my learning with my husband, who turned around and said, "But what has that got to do with you? You are a speech pathologist" again, I answered, quite a lot, actually.
So let me explain. Attachment is the desire to make a human connection, a biological drive innate to all humans regardless of culture or diagnosis. From the moment a baby is born, they are working on building a connection with their caregivers. From over 75 years of study, we know that good relationships keep us happier and healthier, period, Robert Ealdinger, The Good Life. But if you are keen to know more specifically, we know that secure children are more able to
· Enjoy more happiness with their parents.
· Feel less anger at their parents.
· Turn to their parents for help when they are in trouble.
· Solve problems on their own.
· Get along better with friends.
· Have lasting friendships.
· Solve problems with friends.
· Have better relationships with brothers and sister.
· Have higher self-esteem.
· Know that most problems will have an answer.
· Trust that good things will come their way.
· Trust the people they love and,
· Know how to be kind to those around them.
All attachment research speaks about building coherence in the relationship. It is not about either person in the relationship but the AND in the middle. The connection between the two people increases the coherence in the relationship and, therefore, the security that we have in that relationship.
We, as parents to our children, are their secure connection. We help them co-regulate their emotions so that they can learn and grow. When a child struggles with attachment, their limbic system is activated, which is our core survival centre. It is where we flick the switch to the fight, flight, or freeze response. When a child is in this space, they cannot learn or access language (ah, there’s the link to speech pathology). Therefore, we are often referred to as the architects of their brains.
We don't intentionally set out as parents to hurt our children or cause them to break their feelings of attachment. Still, as a society, we need a stronger understanding of the framework for building attachment. We learn how to parent from our parents, which is why we see family traits and transgenerational fears. My Nan was scared of heights, and so was my dad. Now my sister and her children are afraid of heights (just quietly, I am too, but I try and be brave in front of my kids so as not to pass this on to them 😊). As parents, we all have a positive intention, but we don't always have the means, and that is where The Circle of Security steps in. Their framework provides us with a roadmap to follow to move towards more coherence in our relationships, leading to more secure connections and happier, healthier kids.
So where do we begin? Let’s take a quick look at the roadmap in the YouTube clip embedded below.
We are the secure base for our children to feel confident to explore the world. When they are out on the circle, they want us to watch over them, delight in them, help them when needed, and sometimes enjoy with them. The research again shows when you delight in a child, it speeds up their brain growth, and children who typically receive more delight from their parents are more cooperative at the age of two years.
Once a child has explored enough, they will return to us, their haven for comfort, protection, further delight, or with help organizing their fillings. They are returning to us with an empty cup that needs filling before they will be ready to head back out into the world to explore.
We, as the parents, are depicted on this road map as the hands. Our kids always need us to be bigger, stronger, wiser, and kind. Whenever possible, they want us to follow their needs/lead; whenever necessary, it is our job to take charge.
The problem is sometimes the balance of bigger, stronger, wiser, and kind is lost. We become mean if we lean in to be bigger and stronger and move away from being kind. Hands up for us mean parents. Yep, I am one of them.
Leaning into the other side of too much kindness makes us weak, which is not better than mean. Weak leaves our kids feeling like no one is in control and therefore insecure, triggering that core survival mode of fight, flight, freeze (hello, anxiety).
But how on earth do we reach a balance!! As a society, we ask for perfect parents, but I can tell you now there is no such thing, and striving for such sets our kids up for failure. We are talking about "good enough" parenting. If we can meet our kids' needs 30% of the time, they will have secure attachments to us and all the benefits of the research listed above.
So now you know better, you will do better, right? Wrong! Information is powerful; however, this process takes a lot of reflection and changing our state of mind (looking at a child’s behaviour as a request to meet a need). As parents, we need to learn about when we hear our shark music. The music that plays in the background when we feel uncomfortable or triggered by an emotion. Our shark music is often shaped by how we have been parented. I know I become mean when my children get angry in my own house because neither of my parents accepted that emotion from us kids, yet they were prone to it themselves. A little default emotion if things were getting too much. When people mirror back what we least like about ourselves, we find it hard to sit with. I don't like that part of my personality and therefore find it hard to " be with" my kids in that feeling. As a result, I am teaching them that anger isn’t an ok emotion and to suppress it or avoid it, so the cycle continues. But there is a chance for repair. I have been working on myself and my regulation since becoming a mum, and I can tell you I have a strong attachment to my children. Does it get tested? All the bloody time, but that is normal. I now have the roadmap to reflect on my impact on my kids and how well I meet their differing needs. Particularly when children often ask for their needs to be met in the most unlovable ways.
So next time your little one is having a massive tantrum, please remember they are asking you to "pick me, choose me, love me." I also want to acknowledge that you probably have had big feelings while reading this blog. I had so many last week while I was away. But the blame does not help us learn or grow. Only compassion does. Please remember to "Forgive yourself for not knowing what you didn't know before you learned it" Maya Angelou.
I will be looking to offer this program to families on my caseload over the next period, so if this blog has triggered you to want to move toward more coherence and a secure attachment with your child, please let me know how I can help support you.